Banned Songs

If they used to ban album covers, it’s not surprising they’d ban songs too.

Nowadays, song lyrics can be scattered with the “F” word and we wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. I’ve heard some recent rock tunes glorifying the use of drugs or Hiphop songs that are literally poems of promiscuity.

But not so long ago, lyrics with even just the perceived notion of taking grass could get a song banned from the airwaves. Protest songs, viewed as anti-establishment were often targets of artistic restraint.

Below are just a few examples songs preyed by the sting of censorship.

Puff (The Magic Dragon)
Peter, Paul, and Mary

The great drug lyric scare that swamped the 60’s reared its ugly head at the onset of the 70’s. This witch hunt claimed not a few victims; most popular of which is one of folk’s most enduring children’s songs.

Puff (The Magic Dragon)
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. Oh

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee

Despite consistent claims by its composers of the song’s “innocence”, America’s Drug Warriors continued attaching drug references to the songs’ lyrics. Imaginative critics suggested that “Puff” referred to marijuana, “Jackie Paper,” rolling papers, “Autumn Mist,” the smoke. Honah Lee, these fault-finders claimed was actually Hanalei, the Hawaiian village known for its potent marijuana.


Ok guys, those are Taro fields out there and not what you may think.
tabi nyo muna yung mga “Jackie Papers” nyo.  

The cliffs of Hana Lei in the background supposedly is a sleeping dragon.

The critics raised an alarm contending that the seemingly simple tune was a nefarious drug paean in disguise. These same critics lobbied for the removal of “Puff” from radio playlists; a petition that was blindly followed by some radio stations in Midwest America.

 In April 1971, the Illinois Crime Commission published
a list of popular rock songs that contain drug references.,
“Let’s Go Get Stoned” Joe Cocker: “lyrics have a double meaning , referring to alcohol but also to drugs.”
“A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” Procol Harum: “Mind-bending characteristics of the psychedelics.”
“Hi-De-Ho (That Sweet Old Sweet Roll),” Blood Sweat & Tears: “Joys of smoking marijuana.”
“With A Little Help From My Friends”: Beatles: … implying that those using narcotics, marijuana,
or psychedelics share these drugs with one another.”
“White Rabbit,” Jefferson Airplane: “Extolling the kicks provided by LSD and other psychedelics.”
“Yellow Submarine,” Beatles: “Street jargon for yellow, barbiturate capsules.”
“Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” Beatles: “The initial letters in the title form the word LSD.
The song depicts the pleasure of LSD.”
“Puff The Magic Dragon,” Peter Paul & Mary: “Smoking marijuana and hashish.”


Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

One of America’s greatest all-time atrocities would have to be the Kent State Univ killings at Kent, Ohio. On May 4, 1970, the National Guard was called in to break up an anti-Vietnam protest that students had been carrying out, but things took a turn for the worst when the soldiers began firing tear gas and their rifles into the crowd, leaving four dead.

John Filo who was a student at Kent State
when the photographs was taken
won the 1971 Pulitzer for this image.

David Crosby, horrified at what happened at Kent State, encouraged Neil Young to write a song about the incident (after showing Young the Life mag cover). CSNY rush-recorded “Ohio” as their musical response to the killings and was released a week after the Kent State event.

Corporate shunning of this protest song flexed its muscles and convinced numerous radio stations not to support “Ohio” with airplay. Urban legend has it that then Gov. Rhodes banned the song from being played in Ohio for many years.
. . . despite all of these, “Ohio” climbed to the Top 20 and has become one of the most powerful protest tunes in rock history.


"Eve of Destruction"

“Eve of Destruction”
Barry Mcguire

 Eve of Destruction
The eastern world, it is exploding
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin’

But you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it’s bound to scare ya boy]

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Yeah, my blood’s so mad feels like coagulatin’
I’m sitting here just contemplatin’
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation
And marches alone can’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’

And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for 4 days in space
But when you return, it’s the same old place
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace
Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace
And… tell me over and over and over and over again, my friend
You don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction
Mm, no no, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
of destruction.


 This is probably the only number 1 song to have been banned thrice!
Released in 1965, “Eve of Destruction” even outshone Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”
to top spot.
This anti-war ballad was issued when opposition to the Vietnam war began gaining momentum in America and the record immediately faced reactionary responses.
Christian Crusade leaders charged that the lyrics were “obviously aimed at instilling fear in our teenagers as well as a sense of hopelessness.” Others claimed that the song’s goal was of inducing “the American public to surrender to atheistic international Communism.” Such sentiments caused the disc to be banned by many radio stations.
Strike One

Then, a quarter century later, “Eve of Destruction” was banned by BBC radio during President Bush’s 1991 war against Iraq.
Strike Two

And then, once again, the song was black-listed by America’s giant radio network, Clear Channel, in the wake of 9/11 and the ramp-up to the second President Bush’s Iraq War.
Strike Three

Buti na lang, hindi ito baseball.
The song continues to be one of Rock’s undying protest classics that instills that fear of our own inhumanity to humankind. In doing so, the song inspires the hope that we may never be at that moment of The Eve of Destruction.

Finding out whether or not these songs were intentionally intended by the composers to sow the seeds of drugs and discontent is not our purpose here. The fact that they were banned, for me, mirrors our maturity (or immaturity?) towards music. Just like the album covers, music lyrics have been a gauge of our evolving morals and sensibilities.

On a personal note, I sometimes wonder how songs like those above with profound significance could be expelled from airplay while we get bombarded with the likes of “aring-king-king” and “spaghetting pababa” .

…Ok, who said life was fair anyway? :)


April 2008


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